Memphis and SMU, a pair of 6-5 American Athletic Conference teams, meet Saturday in Dallas hoping to finish the regular season strong heading into what have become annual bowl trips.
Looking to win its third straight game to cap the campaign, Memphis (6-5, 3-4) is coming off a 59-0 win over North Alabama to become bowl eligible for the ninth consecutive season.
SMU (6-5, 4-3), meantime, clinched a fourth consecutive bowl trip back on Nov. 12 before stumbling through a 59-24 shellacking at No. 19 Tulane last Thursday.
Coach Rhett Lashlee’s Mustangs didn’t do much right against the Green Wave, committing five turnovers and allowing 310 yards rushing.
“It’s embarrassing, yes, when you’re getting your butt kicked by a team that’s good, but you feel like if you played well, you can play with,” Lashlee said. “Anybody who watched the game could tell we got our butts handed to us.
“How do you respond in the moment when it’s not fun? When the whole world is watching and you don’t finish?” wondered Lashlee. “How do you pick yourself up after? That’s our job now.”
In hosting the Tigers, the Ponies will challenge a team hitting on all cylinders lately.
After losing their season-opening contest against Southeastern Conference member Mississippi State, the Tigers (6-5, 3-4) ran off four consecutive wins. Following a winless four-game stretch from Oct. 7 to Nov. 5, they have rebounded with a pair of victories and sit on the cusp of a seven-win season.
The nine-bowl streak is a testament to heightened expectations at Memphis.
“It means everything,” said running back Asa Martin. “It’s nine in a row. We didn’t want to be the team to end that streak. The program is growing, and there’s a lot of progression over the last couple of years.
“Of course, you always want to get to the AAC championship or the Cotton Bowl game and games like that. Just get to a bowl game and keep that thing going.”
Memphis has 77 wins since 2014, the most among AAC schools. It has also won seven of the past eight meetings with SMU.
–Field Level Media